Embleton has given Johnson a dilemma as he pushes for Cats start
There was a marked change in Sunderland’s attacking output.
Without a typical ‘number nine’ against Port Vale, the Black Cats and their quartet of attacking midfielders set about to stretch the visiting backline.
And it worked. Pockets of space were created and chances forged, with the only real disappointment that the final tally wasn’t more than two.
Key to a lot of the good work Sunderland did in the game was Elliot Embleton, who was making only a fourth start of the season.
But given his showing against Vale, it wold be no surprise were that tally to extend to five when the Wearsiders head to Wimbledon on Saturday.
Embleton’s stats against from the Papa John’s Trophy tie are broadly encouraging.
He mustered three shots, one of which was on target, completed 100 per cent of his attempted dribbles, pressed and won the ball back three times and only misplaced eight passes throughout the 90 minutes.
On another day, he could have won the Black Cats a penalty too – with an early foul on the 21-year-old yielding just a free-kick despite his securing possession.
Johnson spoke earlier this week of wanting to see his players play the ball forward or vertically – with Sunderland having gained a reputation, in some quarters at least, for playing too many backward passes.
With Embleton, though, the focus is always on driving the side forward.
It’s something that is lacking in the squad and a mentality that is key to the front-foot football Johnson is keen to instil.
And for that reason, the academy graduate will undoubtedly be in his thoughts for the weekend.
With Max Power set for an extended stay at rightback, there’s a vacancy in the midfield – and Johnson now has a big decision to make on whether that slot goes to Embleton.